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Victoria Ren, '26, becomes a YMCA board member through Cardinal Commitment

When the YMCA of Silicon Valley shared an opportunity for volunteers in the fall of 2022 through the Cardinal Commitment program, it was part of their effort to find students who could strengthen a key pillar of the organization’s mission: supporting youth development.

Dr. Melina Gehring, a board member at the Palo Alto Family YMCA branch, was part of this effort. She and Danny Koba, the executive director of youth development for the YMCA of Silicon Valley, set up a booth at the annual Cardinal Service Fair with the intention of finding students who were interested in leadership roles.

The Cardinal Service Fair is an annual event held at the beginning of the academic year where hundreds of students descend to speak with representatives from student organizations, community organizations, and campus programs that are focused on service.

As Melina and Danny spoke to the dozens of students who stopped at their table, they met first-year student Victoria Ren. Victoria, who is participating in the Cardinal Commitment program, is now a research assistant at the Graduate School of Education working on solutions that support the mental health of young people in local communities. Her background in leadership and youth development, including her work to co-found a STEM education nonprofit and lead a team in fundraising more than $20,000 for the initiative, was a particularly strong fit for the board member role they were hoping to fill at the Palo Alto branch.

Victoria became a board member in March 2023. She leads a task force that is focused on establishing a Youth Advisory Council, where young community members can lead the agenda and be supported in pursuing their objectives.

“This is very much a win-win situation,” says Melina of Victoria’s appointment as a board member. “Victoria is bringing knowledge, intentionality, and depth of thought to the board.”

Victoria, who spent time at her local YMCA throughout her childhood, was drawn to work with them because of their focus on youth engagement and their goal to meet the needs of community members.

“I want to learn more about how they’re able to serve as a central hub, what the process of prioritizing issues looks like, and how they can manage issues or challenges with capacity, especially when trying to address many factors and support everyone,” says Victoria of her interest in being involved with the YMCA.

While Victoria believes her role and objectives will vary throughout her three-year appointment, she hopes that this opportunity allows her to get more deeply involved in the community she lives in.

“One of my aspirations for my time on the board is to learn more about community need,” Victoria says, “talking to people at different events and getting a better pulse to hopefully design more helpful programs.”

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